Saturday, February 28, 2009

What generation gap?

A dark hoodie discretely stashing a bummed cigarette, a mumbled conversation, a pair of incredibly baggy pants... just this generation's coming-of-age accoutrement, no different (really) than the beeper an uncle might have slipped into one of his scuffy Doc Martins. Or a Sex Pistols T-shirt defiantly ripped and safety-pinned by a father. Or a grandmother's peace sign necklace and flag miniskirt. Or a great grandfather's coonskin cap. Yeah, there's that cell phone... but you just know those pleas and sighs could have just as easily been uttered into a crank phone mounted on a kitchen wall. Or written in a telegram. Or scribbled with a quill by candlelight.

Fashions change and technology buzzes forward but angst, irrepressible feelings of immortality and sulking ennui are exactly the same as they ever were. Isn't it grand? (Don't worry... it's only teenage wasteland.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Winter's Palette

I took this shot a couple of weeks ago, before the storms rolled in. I believe those gorgeous trees are flowering pears. I always associate them with February, and the unforgettable scent of mock orange trees. Although the mock orange tree is not as showy as others, it manages to upstage everything else that blooms with a heady fragrance that rivals the sultriest night blooming jasmine.

Cherry trees have also begun making winter blossoms. Soon, the purple jacarandas will begin to dazzle and then drop lilac petals all over the streets. By spring, the crape myrtle trees will start making flowers that will last the summer.

Take that, New England. Fall foliage is great and everything, but just look at our winter flowers!

(And just try to beat that classic San Gabriel Valley topiary tree at the end of the street...)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tennis, and a Tribute...

I saw this solitary tennis player repeating lackidasical serves as I drove past Garfield Park the other day. I had to stop and take a closer look because he reminded me so much of the late David Foster Wallace, one of San Gabriel Valley's most cherished residents and one of literature's most sparkling and multi-faceted minds. Wallace committed suicide in nearby Claremont this past September at the age of 46. He had taken the semester off from teaching at Claremont's Pomona College.

Anyone who has ever read Infinite Jest knows that brilliant is too dumb a word to define Wallace's work. Like some madcap wordsmith on laughing gas, he manipulated language in ways that Pynchon and Joyce would have appreciated -- but never at the expense of the story. Rather than obscuring his narrative, Wallace dressed it in a rococo circus costume and celebrated its trippy excess. Then he footnoted it, told a joke about it, and started off on another adventure with it. Gertrude Stein would have approved of the way he messed with language. Robin Williams probably identified with his riffs on an established form. Charlie Chaplin would have loved his hilarious, spot-on depiction of modern life. He was a post-modernist with a heart, an ironic champion of anti-irony and a self-deprecating super-genius.

I once studied with a writer who was friends with Wallace. I asked him, "So what's he like? What's he really like?"

"Shy," he said. "And funny. And kind-hearted. And even smarter than you think he is. And probably more than a little tormented."

Infinite Jest covered a lot of territory -- addiction, depression, family, computer turn-based war games, Quebec separatism, pop culture, cinematic theory ... and tennis. Always tennis. So when I saw this singular tennis player with the familiar Wallace uniform of wrinkled sweat pants and wire eyeglasses, I guess I finally felt the crushing absence that was left in this world when Wallace died. I realized it.

Then, the player in this picture left the court, walked up the hill and disappeared out of view.

If you haven't read anything by David Foster Wallace, please do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Woodpecker in a Palm Tree

The wild parrots of San Gabriel Valley are well known. And we certainly see our share of hawks. But a woodpecker in a palm tree is something new. Doesn't this image seem rather incongruous and genre-busting? Maybe woodpeckers regularly peck in palm trees and I've just never noticed. But I prefer to think of it as a wonderful example of nature doing some unconventional casting just to keep things interesting. For me, this is kind of like seeing a chipmunk at the beach.

When I heard that rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat sound, I grabbed my zoom. (I've got to hand it to this fellow for his high standards... this tree is about as tall as one of these!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Telephone Poles

I noticed this line of telephone poles the other day while wandering around Monterey Hills. Wires in a digital age...

I wonder if images like this will someday be as quaint and far away as pictures of gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages. While I certainly love the cool convenience of my Razr -- and admit to secretly coveting a friend's iPhone -- there is something so stalwart and romantic about telephone poles. I think Carl Sandburg identified the soul inside the structure when he wrote this:

Under A Telephone Pole

I AM a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.
Night and day I keep singing--humming and thrumming:
It is love and war and money; it is the fighting and the
tears, the work and want,
Death and laughter of men and women passing through
me, carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping,
in the dawn and the
shine drying,
A copper wire.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Settings: Part 8

It's that time again, all you wannabe Finchers, Howards, Van Sants, Daldrys and Boyles...

I have an excuse to trot out my favorite little game ... The Academy Awards are given out tonight just a few miles away at Hollywood's Kodak Theater. (Those who work in that area can take a look at Hollywood's street closures here.)

Residents of the greater Los Angeles area are connected to the big dream machine, whether or not we are employed by the entertainment industry. For the better part of a century, Los Angeles has been the nexus of entertainment, generating around $38 billion annually. That huge business of entertainment fuels many other businesses in the region -- from restaurants to payroll companies, temp agencies to set builders, animal trainers to day care providers. Cities themselves are involved in the manufacturing of entertainment, too. For those of us in the San Gabriel Valley, movie and TV crews are a way of life. (Readers of this blog might remember that my neighborhood provided background for an episode of Cold Case a few months ago.) The Changeling -- nominated for several Oscars this year -- filmed many scenes in neighboring Pasadena. Our historic neighborhoods provide the setting for many onscreen stories.

And speaking of onscreen stories... if this setting was a scene in a film, what would happen here?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stars in the Dugout

The other day I took a walk around the baseball feild at Orange Grove Park right after the rain. I had just rounded the corner behind the third base foul line when the sun made a surprising blast from the outfield, across home plate and right into the stars painted on the dugout pavement.

Baseball is so elegant. Even when the park is empty.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spanish Beauty

I've written a lot about the many older homes in South Pasadena. You all know about my borderline obsession with Craftsman houses. And I'm also particularly fond of Victorians. But I don't want to leave out examples of Spanish Revival. Like this one, built in 1923.

These simple, little stucco houses are iconic in Los Angeles. You'll see them all over the place, as omnipresent as California bungalows and just as cheerful. While many other styles of the early 20th Century tried to replicate neighborhoods of the Northeast, these homes were inspired by Spain, by way of Florida. Local architects and designers were so taken with Florida's Spanish style boom, they brought national attention to it at the 1915 Panama-California Fair in San Diego. After that, homes like this popped up all over Southern California, and transformed the urban face of the growing Los Angeles metropolitan area. You can't look back at classic Hollywood cinema without seeing a lot of classic Spanish architecture. (I can imagine Barbara Stanwyck peaking out of one of those windows...)

This home certainly flaunts its Southern California personality, especially with all the muted native plants along the curb, and the impossibly wonderful row of palm trees above.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

School Supplies

South Pasadena schools are legendary in Southern California. Each year they are ranked among the best in the state. US News and World Report even rated South Pasadena High School as one of the best in the country.

We're fortunate to benefit from these outstanding public schools. Innovative teachers, a diverse student population and a vibrant, involved parent/teacher foundation assure that all South Pasadena children have the opportunity for a good education. The schools were the main reason my husband and I initially decided to sell our west side Los Angeles home and buy a house in South Pasadena. It's the reason many people are content to rent here even when they could buy elsewhere.

But many areas around the country are not nearly as fortunate. And with that in mind, I wanted to highlight a wonderful non profit organization I recently discovered...

Donor's Choose is a smart way to give needy students the materials public schools often cannot provide. Teachers from around the country submit project proposals, and concerned individuals -- like us -- can choose which projects to fund. Proposals range from requests for library books to overhead projectors, from computers to costumes for dramatic productions. You can search by areas of interest, or geographic location and then donate to the projects you find the most interesting. Recently, I helped a Las Vegas history teacher provide all of his students with an alternate history book to compare and contrast with the one provided by the state. I was particularly excited about this opportunity because the proposed book -- Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States -- was one that changed my life and enabled me, as a young person, to develop my critical thinking. The idea of giving others that same experience was thrilling.

Don't feel like you have to be Bill Gates to participate ... you can donate as much -- or as little -- as you choose. (And in many instances, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match your donation.) Please take a look and see if there might be a classroom project with your name on it. Or even better: Donor's Choose allows you to make contributions in someone else's honor. What better way to thank your old 6th grade teacher than by funding a project in her name?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Classic Cool

I turned a corner and found this groovy modern house with a mint condition Mustang parked in front. I no longer question it -- I just assume that I have some kind of cosmic art director setting up these shots. Here, I kept waiting for Steve McQueen to walk out and get in the car. (Or maybe Starsky and Hutch to pull up next to it.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Even better with lemonade...

Cicero once said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Sounds pretty good. (How about this spot to sit down and read?)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Curbside Rebel

South Pasadena's craggy old sidewalks have an abundance of doodles and signatures, but this has to be my absolute favorite. As far as radical acts of punk rebellion go, this one is pretty understated, wouldn't you say? (Maybe it was written by someone like Rose, who was unable to express her punk soul any other way...)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Windows like jewels...

I always slow down to look at these beautiful windows when I drive on Fremont. I wonder if they were created at nearby Judson Studios? Judson's historic stained glass artisans have been filling windows with color and magic for almost 112 years -- 89 years in the present location, just outside of South Pasadena in the Highland Park/Garvanza section of Los Angeles.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Story

I am not ashamed to admit it: I love Valentine's Day. And no, I don't mean the non-commercial, organic, too-hip-for-love-songs kind of Valentine's Day where you smirk at all the silly little people and their bourgeois customs while hosting an anti-Valentine's Day Bergman Film Festival party. I love the whole, ridiculous concept-- the wilting, overpriced roses and the battery-operated greeting cards that play Elvis songs and the tacky red lace Fredrick's of Hollywood lingerie and the big Mylar balloons in the shape of puckered lips. I think Peppy le Pew had the right idea about romance. He was undaunted, overly sentimental, and absolutely sincere. We can be cool about music and art and independent films -- but let's allow ourselves to get a little goofy about love.

I know everyone likes to complain about how Valentine's Day is just another creation by retailers to force people to buy stuff they don't need. It's an event probably orchestrated by restaurant owners, florists and jewelers. Fine. I suppose all of that is true. But what I like about Valentine's Day is that it is the one day out of the year when it's okay to believe in the hyperbolic, overzealous, madcap potential of being in love. It's one day where you can declare yourself unabashedly to someone, with full societal approval and every corny trick in the book at your disposal. There's a reason Cupid shoots arrows instead of making rational speeches. Sometimes we need a bit of a shove to make a connection. Valentine's Day is that big push -- a day where the brooding guy finds the courage to hold his boom box aloft and play a love song to the girl he can't live without.

I don't know if the two people in this photo were a romantic couple or just two friends sharing a coffee break at Starbucks. But today, on Valentine's Day, I choose to believe they fell madly in love over those cappuccinos... that they spent that afternoon finding out they both liked cherry pop tarts, John Fowles novels and Miles Davis; that they each thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was overrated; that they both confessed to singing in the shower and sometimes singing cheesy 70s disco songs. I choose to believe that today, when they realized they had each emailed the other the very same Neruda poem, they both felt that happy/scared/exhilarated/anxious/wondrous/thankful feeling of being alive that comes when you realize you might be falling for someone.

Happy heart day, everyone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Post: Modern

The neighborhoods in South Pasadena's hills sprung up later than the rest of the city. And like a cocky teenager who defies his parents by growing his hair out and dying it blue, this enclave happily rebels against the older neighborhoods below. Above, you'll find all kinds of modern architecture dotting a landscape of ubiquitous contemporary California ranch style houses. There are wonderful examples of mid-century modern, Brady Bunch chalet and earthy 70s split level, as well as a few boxy 80s glass and stucco palaces.

Here, I snapped a shot of a cool late 1960s modern chandelier hanging in a big picture window. What was once brand new is now its own 20th Century modern classic. (If I squint, I can visualize a little Rothko in that textured wall -- a little Miro in the orbs and the tree branches...)

Thursday, February 12, 2009


The recent storm transformed our mountains into this frosty snow confection -- and graced us with a comfortable temperature of around 70 degrees in the city. Sometimes mother nature is such a grand old show off, isn't she?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Craftsman Challenge: Round 4

Benjamin Madison over at Victoria Daily Photo offered a total knockout entry into the Craftsman Challenge. As Petrea at Pasadena Daily Photo wrote in Benjamin's comment section, "We'll have to go back at it, won't we?"

I'll say!

It all started with my lament that it's nearly impossible to get a picture of a Craftsman home that truly reflects the beauty and wonder of the architectural style. Well, never let it be said that my blogging pals pass up a good challenge...

Petrea stepped up here and followed up here, Ben at The Sky is Big in Pasadena added his two cents here, Mister Earl upped the stakes here and here and with a big laugh-out-loud here, Sarah Jane over at Hatching a Patch jumped in with this , GOSP reader Barbra came along with this, and Keith at Gem City Images tried to grab the title of Craftsman Smackdown King with this great shot only to be shaken when Elaine way up north in Willits snuck up with this great shot.

I'm thrilled that my call for photographs of Craftsman homes has spread out of the San Gabriel Valley, through Northern California and now to Canada. We can already see the differences in the way the Craftsman master ethic translated to different regions. I love the stonework in Benjamin's shot. It's very different than the river rock that is so prevalent here.

So it's game on, fellow bloggers. Who else wants to dare try to capture these elusive beauties with the snap of a shudder? I'll say it again: show me your Craftsmans!

Oh, and for those of you new to this madness, check out the details in these posts...

(If I've left anyone out, please let me know!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mise en Scène

After days and days of rain, the wet streets have provided a perfect setting for some carefree shots in the spirit of lomography. I posted once before about this extremely cool approach to photography. Don't think... just shoot! Shoot from the hip! Forget aim or settings or white balance, just snap and see what happens! In this case, I captured two upside down palm trees trapped inside a puddle. And to think, I might have just stepped right over them.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Urban Waterway

The Arroyo Seco is much more than a weird concrete channel used by local skateboarders. Although the Spanish name roughly translates to “dry stream bed,” it usually flows with several cubic feet of water per second, and occasionally swells to near capacity with the runoff of an erosion-prone 46.7 square mile watershed. It starts near Mount Wilson in the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains and winds its way between La Canada Flintridge and Altadena through Pasadena, alongside the western boundary of South Pas and onward into the bigger concrete confines of the Los Angeles River north of Downtown LA. The Arroyo Seco stream assists in replenishing the Raymond Basin aquifer underlying Pasadena.

The Arroyo region is a fantastic microcosm of local plant and animal life -- although, in my opinion, the area skunks certainly could tone down their olfactory upstaging. (My husband and I joke that we live in the Skunk Gabriel Valley.) The Arroyo Seco Foundation, created by Charles Lummis in 1905, has led the way in efforts to preserve and protect the area for future generations. The group works toward "an integrated, harmonious approach to watershed and flood management, water conservation, habitat enhancement as well as the expansion of recreational opportunities." I'm glad we have good people like this to make sure our natural treasures aren't completely paved over. They recently helped bring back the Arroyo chub -- a native species of fish that was once plentiful in the area.

Just above the Devil's Gate Dam, the Arroyo stream creates falls that are particularly loud and melodious. Local mythology tells us that this rhythmic, mysterious, laughing sound is due to an ongoing competition between the taunting river and the trickster coyote. (Though I wouldn’t put it past those rambunctious skunks to have something to do with it.)

Here, the Arroyo curves along the edge of Arroyo Drive, across from South Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Park, right near the Skate Park and -- if you look at the familiar streetlamps on the left side of the photo -- next to the tunnel I showed you here.

For another view, Petrea at Pasadena Daily Photo has a gorgeous recent shot of the Arroyo here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Timeless Classics

Last night I just happened to notice another great old car parked in front of another great old house. (Either that or I traveled back in time and didn't realize it.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


With all the recent talk about a drought, Southern California welcomes this lovely, drenching rain -- seen here creating an artistic puddle in my driveway. A big swath of Mission Street lost power during the storm.

And in keeping with yesterday's jazzy mood, here's Ella's version of Stormy Weather ...

Friday, February 6, 2009

When the whole wide world is fast asleep...

You'll hear a lot of old jazz standards if you hang around in South Pasadena. The songs ease from restaurant speakers and filter out of car windows. And why not? It makes sense that a town filled with old houses, antiques and vintage cars would attract at least a few residents who groove to a nostalgic beat.

Sometimes, the soundtrack really fits the scene. Like here, when I was creeping around to steal this grainy shot, I heard the faint sounds of a scratchy old Sinatra album playing somewhere nearby. I'll bet if I hung around long enough, I would have heard this song...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A View from the Farmer's Market

Today is Thursday, and that means that by later this afternoon the South Pasadena Farmer's Market will be burgeoning with homegrown goodies and bustling with hometown fun. The market is not only a gastronome's delight, but a feast for the eyes, too. I often get so caught up in taking pictures of the people there, I forget to pick up the giant strawberries or baby greens I was shopping for. (I just came across a bunch of shots I took there last September. I liked this one so much, I wanted to share it.)

If you are anywhere near Mission and Meridian this afternoon, make sure to stop by and see what all the fuss is about. I suggest you have some grilled corn on the cob while you're there. But beware: it's so addictive, you might just dream about it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Open Floor Plan

South Pasadena's Craftsman and Victorian homes in the historic neighborhoods will capture your attention, of course. And with good reason. But if you explore the hills above town you'll stumble upon this curious house. (Well, maybe. If you can find it with all the no outlet signs and cul de sacs.)

I had to stop and take a picture of this place. It's like a hobbit house ... for a midcentury hobbit who was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. And it appears to come with a science fiction cloaking device back there behind the front doors!

Just where do those doors lead, anyway? Middle Earth? Another dimension?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Works of Art

Thanks to an email tip-off from observant GOSP reader Dbdubya, I managed to run out yesterday and get a picture of this vintage English Mini parked in front of Fremont Gallery. Notice how the Old Car Fairy who seems to present me with these shots managed to, yet again, match the car to the surroundings. In this case, the orange paint seems to be from the same expressive palette that touched the paintings in the window.

At least that's how it appears to this woman's eyes.

(Speaking of which, make sure to check out the new exhibition at the gallery: Through Women's Eyes. It opens February 7th.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Settings: Part 7

You guys were so creative the last time we played this game, I feel the urge to put you through the paces again. Put on your director's cap, grab your imaginary megaphone and direct this scene.

If this abandoned storefront was a setting for a movie, what would happen here?

Sunday, February 1, 2009


The first day of the month means it's Theme Day for participating City Daily Photo bloggers. This month's theme is Paths and Passages. I find this a particularly intriguing subject, and not just because of the meaning of my last name.

This theme gives me an opportunity to post another night shot from the sidewalk at Garfield Park. During the day this sidewalk welcomes tricycles, scooters, strollers, skateboards and many first steps from toddlers. At night, it beckons lovers, dreamers, curfew-breakers, a few scavenging skunks and raccoons, and at least one photographer who likes to prowl around in the dark. (This theme also gives me an excuse to obnoxiously wax philosophical, a pastime I find almost as much fun as taking nighttime pictures...)

This sidewalk is a great example of how a single path, even when it seems straightforward, can curve toward the unexpected. But don't most paths reveal surprises if we bother to pay attention? Sure, there are those paths that deep thinkers use to seek enlightenment -- the Eightfold Path, the Simple Path, the path of righteousness, the path of reason-- but what about all the other ones? Like the everyday sidewalks and alleyways that host the majority of our steps.

A pathway can call us out to explore adventure or help us find our way home. It is a great symbol of the present moment because a path is not the origin or the destination; it's not the past and it's not the future. Nope. A path is simply the bridge from this way to that way. And everybody knows a view from a bridge is usually spectacular.

I tend to seek paths that are less traveled, but I gladly admit how comforting it is to walk a beaten track in a place I know well. And in a place that knows me. So here's one of the familiar paths, lit by streetlamps after a rain, pointing toward possibility. Like Matsuo Basho said, "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."

Take a few moments to explore the paths and passages of all participating City Daily Photo Theme Day bloggers.